Radical changes to policing and criminal justice in Britain are needed to shake up an expensive and inefficient system that has left the public disengaged, an independent think tank said yesterday.
People had become “passive bystanders” who think tackling crime and anti-social behavior is the responsibility of Cabinet ministers rather than the local community, Reform said in a report.
It said successive Labour governments since 1997 had overly politicized crime, vastly increasing legislation and public spending while centralizing the justice system.
“The result is a move from Dixon of Dock Green to the Robocop of futuristic Detroit — mechanical, controlled from the center and lacking human interaction,” it said.
To reverse the trend, the think tank called for the creation of locally elected justice commissioners responsible for crime prevention, policing, prosecution and defense service, prisons, community work and probation.
This would create local debate and decision-making regarding prosecution and punishment, allowing, for example, Surrey to adopt a tougher approach than Yorkshire to prosecuting vandals.
Serious organized crime and terrorism should become the remit of a new National Bureau of Investigation, absorbing the national policing elements of London’s Metropolitan Police Service.
“We need to slay the myth that the home secretary is responsible for every stabbing and car theft on the streets of Britain,” said Elizabeth Truss, Deputy Director of Reform and one of the report’s authors.
Ken Jones, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, agreed that there had been an unfortunate trend to centralize criminal justice since the 1990s.
“There are, however, encouraging signs that the centralizing tide is turning,” he said, noting recent government policy papers that recognized the importance of giving greater autonomy to neighborhood police teams.
But he rejected proposals for local justice chiefs and a national police force.
“Success against serious and organized crime and terrorists demands that our local teams are fully integrated and supported by the rest of the service,” he said.
Meanwhile, police charged a fourth man on Monday in connection with alleged threats to assassinate British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Lancashire Constabulary said in a statement that 24-year-old Muhammad Ali Mumtaz Ahmad was charged with possessing an item suspected of being useful for the preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.
A police spokeswoman said the charges relate to the alleged threat to kill the prime minister. She spoke anonymously in line with force policy.
Media reports said the men were being held in connection with a Web site posting signed “al-Qaeda in Britain” that threatened the life of Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair.
The statement, posted on a radical Web site earlier this year, demanded the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the release of some Muslim inmates from prison.
Police arrested two of the men, Ishaq Kanmi and Abbas Iqbal, on Aug. 14 at Manchester Airport in northern England, reportedly as they were about to board a flight to Finland. The men and Iqbal’s brother Ilya Iqbal — arrested in Accrington 56km north of the airport — were charged with terror offenses related to the same case last week. The men were described by police as being Asian, which in a British context suggests they are of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent.